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GWS 2020: The future is plastic

To quote Mr McGuire in the 1967 movie, The Graduate, "there is a great future in plastics." According to the 2020 edition of the Great Wargaming Survey, plastics, and especially hard plastic, may be the future. See Jasper's WSS blog post with an initial peek at some of the initial results of this year's survey at GWS 2020: Highlights and Maybe Some Shadows.

In this first look at the 2020 survey results, Jasper highlights responses to one of the new questions on the 2020 survey. That is, "Which material do you prefer for your miniatures?" Based upon survey responses, the answer is hard plastics by a small margin over metal. Resin comes in at third overall.

As I did for the GWS 2019 survey, I plan to dig a little deeper into the data in an attempt to bring more order out of the data chaos. With Jasper referencing Question 17 in his initial blog post on GWS2020, this survey question relating to miniatures' material preference is as good of a place to start as any.

Material choice

Since this question asked for the respondent's top three choices, I limit my analysis to the Top Three choices even though the survey graphic provides a weighted average across all choices. Does that make a difference? Even limiting material choices to the Top Three, Hard Plastic, Metal, and Resin comprise the Top Three choices as in the survey summary.

Seeing the result of hard plastic figures coming out as the top material choice in the aggregate, is a surprise to me. Perhaps this is only one indication that I am out of step with the hobby. For me, metal is my preferred figure material, but I am one of the Old Guard, I suppose. I began miniature wargaming in the early 70s with Airfix HO scale plastics. While I amassed sizable armies in soft plastic, by the early 90s the plastics were jettisoned, and I moved on to metal figures. I really have not looked back. Well, not yet, anyway. I did recently pick up a Star Wars Legion core set in hard plastic to work with my grandson.

Since the graphic above (Figure 1) is an aggregation of the Top Three material choices, does breaking down the rankings make any material difference? Yes, it does. See Figure 2.

Respondents' top choice for figure material is Hard Plastic (48%), Metal (38%), and Soft Plastic (5%).
Respondents' second choice for figure material is Hard Plastic (33%), Metal (27%), and Resin (21%).
Respondents' third choice for figure material is Resin (35%), Metal (17%), and Soft Plastic (10%).

These results suggest that outside of hard plastics and metals, resin is a popular second choice. As a third choice, it is dominant. Interesting since my collection of resin figures is almost nil. Most of my resin models are for WWI aircraft. I cannot think of having any resin figures, but I must have a few. Again, I seem to be out of step with the masses.

Age predicts preference?

Perhaps, my out-of-stepped-ness can be explained by age? As seen in many of the analyses from the GWS2019 survey, age does matter. Is that the situation here as well?

Looking at Figure 3 (below), age seems to be a driver of material first choice as well. In the 40-and-under age groups, roughly two-thirds of respondents pick hard plastic as their first choice. Hard plastic as a first choice drops to 50% for the 41-50 Age Group, to 33% for the 51-60 Age Group, and down to 23% for those 61-and-over group.

For metals as a first choice of material, popularity increases with age. Those respondents in the 40-and-under groups list metals as a first choice in less than 20% of the responses. In the 41-50 age group, metal as a first choice jumps to 37%. In the 51-60 group that first choice percentage is 58% and two-thirds for those 61-and-over.

Is this pattern brought about due to figure size, game genre (fantasy vs historical), game type, combinations of all three, or something else entirely? Perhaps cost is a major contributing factor in material choice? Cost for the lower age cohorts certainly seems a reasonable barrier to entry into the world of fielding large armies in metal. I have my hunches based upon these results and trends seen in the GWS2019 survey.

Next time, I will examine the effects of adding preferred figure size, game genre, and game type into this debate on the drivers of material preference.

The future may come down to one word, plastics.

For readers making it through these graphics and analysis, and wanting to weigh in with their own observations and experiences, I encourage and look forward to your comments.

7 thoughts on “GWS 2020: The future is plastic”

  • Peter Brian

    It's a tricky question to answer. Like you say, there is the obvious cost answer, fielding large armies in metal is costly. However, with the quality and range of plastics increasing and the ease of converting the material compared with metal and resin I believe there are some gamers out there finding that plastic is the way to get those units on the table that just don't exist in metal.
    With more accuracy in scales, inter-company mix and matching is easier than ever before. Not just for historical but for fantasy as well. The internet is awash with photos of plastic models that are truly unique.
    Now if we could just find some eco use for all those leftover sprues.

  • Robin Bracey

    Given a choice of material even when I was 40 years younger if any figure was a good sculpt and came in good quality metal that was my choice always and still is, yes hard plastic is very good these days and I have a few but there is nothing like metal in my book and as for resin ? I do not rate it enough to even consider wasting money on it.. Now why not produce a quality hard plastic but seperate metal weapons ?, the mixability of hard plastic and a little added weight into the bargain. After all hard plastic ships and aircraft models are already adding etched brass items and white metal parts so why not with figures.

  • Dylan

    I love my metal miniatures but for wargaming plastic all the way because metal chips.

    Metal for display and plastic for play

  • Nigel Britton

    I would like to see how the preference for material lines up against the scale of figure. My suspicion would be that most of the plastics are 20mm and above, whilst metal is preferred for 15mm and below.
    I also suspect this would correlate with age distribution, as more younger gamers (and possibly new gamers) might well be using larger plastic figures (or sci-fi ranges in plastics). Of course, I could just be letting my age prejudice my view! I graduated from Airfix plastics to metal in about 1978, and have since gamed almost exclusively in 15mm and 6mm. That might be about to change following my first experience of Chain of Command...

  • Jonathan Freitag

    Nigel, see the latest post...

  • Doug Melville

    Coming to this one late, but one of the relevant questions might be: 'when did you start your [current phase of?] wargaming?'

    Those of us who started seriously getting into gaming in a certain period will have almost exclusively used metal, unless we were doing 1/72 or 1/76 plastics, and those soft plastics simply didn't exist outside a very limited range of periods and armies.

    The material will also be influenced by what we choose to play, plastics still aren't available for a range of periods, unless you are prepared to do serious conversions.

    Finally, for me the resin question is simply that for many 28mm vehicles, unless I scratch-build them, until quite recently, resin was the only option available.

  • Brian Van De Walker
    Brian Van De Walker June 17, 2021 at 10:21 am

    I think a lot of you are on to something. I came into wargaming figure collecting later in life when I discovered ebay and Wargames Factory as the main factor for me was cost. However I chose to collect 28mm plastic over 1/72 basically due to a wider selection of fantasy,particularly Asian fantasy, metal minis in 28mm-32mm scale and the fact that Wargames Factory had samurai and foot troop to go with at the time for a great price (ie there was Japanese and Chinese fantasy minis in 28mm but little or none in 1/72 outside a of few from Arcane Legion game which had pegs on them and was already kinda oop).

    Now I have stuck with 28mm and prefer hard plastics because they are easier to kitbash and customize over metal and 1/72 soft plastic, particularly for SciFi and Fantasy (and I prefer to use historical minis fantasy humans). That said I do buy metal 28mms and soft plastic 1/72s if a subject interests me.

    But if I had been more interested real world modern combat wargaming, Napoleonic style history gaming,or even just Western history gaming over fantasy and Sci-Fi, 1/72 soft plastics would probably be my go to, particularly in the case of modern. Why you might ask? well there where several 1/72 soft plastic modern combat sets out there at the time for it: Russia (late soviet and current federation), NATO/UN, USA (cold war to current), British (same deal), Germans, terrorists/insurgents, and even a wealth of 1/72 plastic modern military vehicle kits to go with them from the model industry. And currently the selection of modern plastics in 1/72 has actually expanded into Apoc fiction gaming thanks mostly to Dark Alliance's Stalker range.

    You can checkout more on The Plastic Solder Review website if your interested , its a blog that pretty much cover 1/72 plastic miniature figure kits reviews.

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